Myjack and Gum returned with many workhorses two days later, each burdened with supplies. There were twenty barrels of blackwheat ale alone. Mazik was the most pleased by the shipment and opened a barrel of ale immediately. By the time Claude made his way downstairs, the bastard had downed three cups and couldn't even speak properly.
"You only got twenty barrels?"
That would never be enough. The rainy season lasted more than twenty days and one barrel a day only allowed each person half a cup. It wasn't enough to last the season. Letting the troops drink some alcohol to stave off the cold during the wet weather was common knowledge. That was the reason behind Claude offering to buy the ale with money out of his own pocket.
"Sir, we bought 24 barrels, but Moriad confiscated four when we reached Blackstone Village," Myjack replied.
Ah, he'd forgotten the bastard. How annoying. But there was nothing he could do. Moriad was his minion, in a sense, and what boss doesn't give his minion some benefits? He was already used to being taken advantage of by them. It was his fault for being so free with his spending.
"Lock the bastard up. Don't let him out without my express permission. He's not to be given a single drop of alcohol until I say so either. You'll lose yours if you dare," Claude said as he gave the drunk Mazik a kick.
He called himself an alcoholic with such a poor capacity?
The two hauled Mazik into his room and locked the door.
"Gum, get wooden boards and nail them over the windows.
Gum left immediately.
"And put the rest of the barrels away! Myjack, keep an inventory of who drinks what and how many. You're in charge of the ale."
"Yes, Sir. We also bought fifteen cartons of gran wine. Each has a dozen bottles."
Strong alcohol like gran wine was perfect for staving off the cold. Each person only needed a single modest cup. Additionally, even though the quality of gran wine was bad, the soldiers loved them mainly because they didn't cost much. Each carton was only approximately double the price of a barrel of ale.
"Good. Keep the gran wine in your and Gum's rooms. We'll distribute them when the rainy season is near its end. What else did you buy?"
"Lots. We had to hire three workhorse convoys to move it all. There are some rumours in town that when the Rimodran troops return, they will appropriate all the supplies of the stores. So, most of the merchants were desperately selling their goods off for a low price. I bought anything I thought would be useful and spent all seven-plus crowns you gave me. We still haven't paid for the shipping..."
"Got it. I have a money pouch in the drawer of my desk in the office. Here's the key and go get the money to pay for the workhorse convoys." Claude gave Myjack a key and instructed the other men to unload the goods. He separated the goods he bought with his own money and stored them in the warehouse.
Morning the next day, Claude was awakened by the havoc Mazik was causing. He was loudly threatening the two signallers living in the ground floor's storeroom.
"Mazik you bastard, I'll have you locked up another day if you cause any more ruckus." Claude went downstairs in a fit of anger. "How can you be an alcoholic with your shite capacity? You dropped cold after only three cups! Don't just ignore your duty to steal a sip of booze! Are you even a sergeant-major? How could you get drunk in front of the other soldiers? You're unhappy with being locked up for three days? It's my order! Why are you shouting at those two?"
Mazik instantly behaved. Claude was the one who paid for the ale out of his own pocket. Without a single coin, he knew he could only get some to drink if he got on Claude's good side.
"It's my fault, sir. I'll respect your order, Sir. I won't go out for three days."
Just as Claude was about to head to the kitchen to get something to eat, a soldier came in.
"Sir, the village chief is here. He says you've sent him!"
The old man must've seen the horses and goods and wanted to exchange.
"Let him in," Claude said before he called Myjack downstairs.
He left the matter of trade in Myjack's hands since he had just returned from town and knew the prices of the goods well. He would be able to get them a good deal.
Using the flour they bought last night, he cooked a large pot of flour gruel and cracked a few eggs in it. He scooped two bowls, one for himself and the other for Mazik, and left the rest to Myjack and Gum. With Gum there, he didn't need to worry about there being any leftovers.
"Sir, your food always tastes great. I didn't know flour could be made into a delicacy like this," Mazik flattered after he consumed a large mouthful. "I still don't understand why you used your own money to buy goods to trade with the villagers though. They only have dried mushrooms and herbs. What good is there to trade for those?"
Claude rolled his eyes.
"Do you think my money falls from the sky? I don't take your pay or embezzle goods. I'm only using this chance to make a quick buck. While you might think the mountain goods worthless, they can be sold for at least thrice the price in the city. I can send those to town after the rainy season to sell them for at least double the price. That would cover our supply costs! We'll practically get them for free, understand? It's business."
"Business? You're saying the mountain goods are worth money? Then why don't the villagers go to town and sell it themselves?"
"You won't get it even if I explain. The villagers don't have that much. Travelling to town every two or three days to sell them isn't worth it for them. If they don't have enough, they won't be able to sell them for a good price and can only head to the smaller shops which will haggle the price down. The shops will collect enough themselves and sell them to the larger stores and make a good profit.
"I'm basically taking the place of those small stores by trading them my goods. The villagers will benefit from trading with me regularly and saving the transportation cost. The price I give the smaller stores is also fair. I can trade my stockpile with goods directly, so their profit margin won't be that high either.
"I'm not making any losses personally. While each villager might not forage as many things, the whole village is a different story. Now that word of this has spread, do you believe if I tell you the villagers from Blackstone Village are going to come trade with us as well? After the rainy season, we'll have amassed quite a lot of mountain goods and we can cover the cost of the supplies we use. We'll even make some profit too." Claude wasn't planning on hiding his intentions. It wasn't that the others would have the capital necessary for such a venture anyway, not to mention the fact that Claude already had more than enough supplies for the villagers to trade with that there was no more space in the market for another.
After finishing the gruel, Claude locked Mazik in while he was still busy understanding the business model. He decided to go to the mountains again to see that magus girl with some of the supplies that just came as gifts.
But when he arrived at the warehouse, he realised that there were too many things he could bring with him. The thought of the nearly empty shack made Claude see everything as something the girl could need. After much deliberation and considering that the rainy season was coming, he decided to bring things that could help with living through the season. He would think about other things after the season passed.
With a large sack of goods, he left the camp and headed for the mountains. Most of the villagers were gathered at the warehouse of the camp and haggling over the trades with Myjack, trading in what they had for what they needed.
The path from the village up the mountains was far easier to traverse. He spent only two hours to reach the place where the girl stayed. After using Eye of Appraisal to avoid the ripples that denoted the traps, Claude easily entered the deep part of the forest and reached the empty plot of land.
A familiar growl could be heard, but by now, the wolf had learned its lesson and understood that it wasn't Claude's match. Even though it growled, it was hiding behind the girl magus and didn't charge at him.
The girl was wearing the linen-sack-like patchwork clothes she made. Seeing Claude approach, she didn't run nor speak and only shot him a guarded and hostile gaze.
Claude noticed that she wasn't holding the spear. Instead, she held a chipped spearhead in hand. There was a dissected squirrel on the ground which she probably hunted in the morning. She was probably making lunch.
"Hey, I'm back," he greeted. She ignored him.
"Are you having only that for lunch?" He furrowed his brow. "Didn't I give you food a few days ago? Did you throw it away?"
The magus didn't say anything and pointed at her old shack.
He put down his sack and pushed it open, only to see his food laid out on the table.
Claude wanted to ask her why she didn't eat it, but he recalled that the coming of the rainy season probably meant she was stockpiling something for later consumption. She might have a much harder time searching for food when the rain fell nonstop.
Returning to his sack, he opened it. "Thankfully, I came in time. I'll make you something good for lunch.
"This is a sack of flour. It should be enough to last you through the rainfall. You just have to mix it with water to make dough. If you have yeast, you can make it into bread. You can also make it into wheat biscuit.
"This is enough salt to last you half a year. Here are some spices, which will make the meat taste wonderful if you rub it on them. Here's some butter you can use to make bacon with. Also, I brought you a pan and a pot. You can make food and cook soup with them. Here are some utensils. I brought them cause I saw that you didn't have any. This is a cup and a scoop. It's best for you to drink boiled water to prevent any stomach worms.
"Also, here are some clothes. These undergarments are made from linen and are much more comfortable to wear. Sorry that they're for men, though. This is the smallest size they've got. You can alter them to your liking. Here's a comb for you to groom your hair with, some soap you can use to bathe with, and some detergent for washing your clothes. You can use this to bathe too, but it's rough and will irritate your skin. There's also a toothbrush and some toothpaste you can brush your teeth with."
Claude mimed the teeth-brushing motion, but the girl merely glared at him without making a sound.
Seeing that he wasn't able to spark her interest, he had no choice but to take the last item out of his sack. "This is honeyed bread. My subordinate bought it from town yesterday. There're also raisins inside. It's great. Try some. You better finish this fast, since it can last five days at most. It'll spoil and mould after that. Also, I brought this for you, buddy. Goat's hoof. Feel free to bite into it."
Claude tossed the hoof to the black wolf, but it merely gave it a sniff and left it alone.
The girl picked the hoof up and toasted it on the brazier.
"Hey, that's for the black wolf to eat," Claude said.
The girl glared at Claude angrily and finally spoke. Her voice was clear and moving. "Blackwind doesn't eat it raw!"
"Y-you're... you're not mute after all..." Claude said with a stunned look.
"You're the mute!" The girl turned around and continued to ignore him.
"Oh... I see... so this wolf is called Blackwind. A... a fine name indeed." Claude was still reeling from the shock of hearing her speak. That was good. He only had to keep the conversation going to communicate with her properly.
What were the odds of finding a rogue magus younger than him during his military career? He was quite curious why she lived in the mountains alone.